It's suspected 19 residents of a Winnipeg care home, who have contracted COVID-19 during an outbreak, have not become seriously ill because they were given their first dose of the vaccine in January.

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It's suspected 19 residents of a Winnipeg care home, who have contracted COVID-19 during an outbreak, have not become seriously ill because they were given their first dose of the vaccine in January.

"It looks like this might be helping in mitigating or minimizing effects and they will recover," said Charles Gagne, chief executive officer of Actionmarguerite, which runs three Winnipeg homes, including one at 185 Despins St. in St. Boniface, which reported a COVID-19 outbreak on Feb. 8.

Health officials in Canada are looking into reports that there's a good level of protection from just one dose of the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Manitoba has set out to vaccinate all personal care home residents with the two prescribed doses by early March.

Charles Gagne, CEO of Actionmarguerite, which has had a COVID-19 outbreak despite residents receiving their vaccinations. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Charles Gagne, CEO of Actionmarguerite, which has had a COVID-19 outbreak despite residents receiving their vaccinations. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

At Actionmarguerite St. Boniface, the first-dose vaccine clinic took place on Jan. 27. On Feb. 8, an outbreak was declared. Since then, 20 residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Sadly, a woman in her 90s, who was frail, died on Saturday, Gagne said. Before testing positive she had begun the end-of-life process, Gagne said. The other 19 residents who tested positive are all doing OK.

"All of our residents appear to be stable," he said Tuesday. "I have to think that the contributing factor is the vaccine," said Gagne.

Nurses and doctors familiar with outbreaks at other care homes prior to the vaccine rollout have said the symptoms of the vaccinated residents at Actionmarguerite don't seem as aggressive, Gagne said.

A virologist with the University of Manitoba's department of medical microbiology said Actionmarguerite's one-dose experience, so far, is encouraging.

"All of our residents appear to be stable. I have to think that the contributing factor is the vaccine." — Charles Gagne, chief executive officer of Actionmarguerite

"When we think about the issues we've had with longer-term care facilities, not only in Winnipeg but Canada and worldwide, we've seen a devastating toll on residents within those facilities," said Jason Kindrachuk.

"Every piece of information we've seen about Pfizer or Moderna's vaccine has been unbelievably positive. As we get more data, we're seeing all the things that we thought looked good actually are really, really good."

It's too soon to say if the experience at Actionmarguerite is proof that one dose is adequate, Kindrachuk said.

"We can't look at this and say for certain this is the result of the vaccine. There could have been other factors," he said. "But it falls in line with what we've seen before. It's a very good sign and indicator."

Recent data in peer-reviewed journals show the high efficacy of the vaccine after people got a first dose. (Supplied)

Recent data in peer-reviewed journals show the high efficacy of the vaccine after people got a first dose. (Supplied)

It supports the movement toward vaccinating as many vulnerable people as soon as possible with their first dose of vaccine rather than holding some back to ensure there's enough for a second dose on time, Kindrachuk said.

"Worldwide, there's a stronger impetus more towards vaccinating more broadly rather than conserving for potential second doses." Recent data in peer-reviewed journals show the high efficacy of the vaccine after people got a first dose.

"Getting more people vaccinated immediately helps reduce severe disease," the virologist said. "We're also seeing data that (a first dose) may reduce transmission within those people most vulnerable to the disease," he said.

As variants of concern threaten to drive up the number of cases and hospitalizations, getting as many at-risk people one dose of the vaccine as possible could prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.

"The data seem to indicate this is the way to go," Kindrachuk said.

"Every piece of information we've seen about Pfizer or Moderna's vaccine has been unbelievably positive. As we get more data, we're seeing all the things that we thought looked good actually are really, really good." — Jason Kindrachuk, virologist with the University of Manitoba's department of medical microbiology

The St. Boniface home's second-dose vaccination clinic was scheduled for earlier this month but was postponed by distribution delays, Gagne said. It's scheduled to go ahead on Wednesday. So far, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine appears to be keeping residents from getting sick, he said.

"It's early, so we can't tell for sure," said Gagne. "Days 8, 9 and 10 are critical — where they get better or crash." He said the care home staff are following all the protocols, and nurses are checking vital signs twice daily. They're testing symptomatic residents on other units for COVID-19. "They all came back negative, and that's reassuring," said Gagne.

Actionmarguerite St. Boniface set up an area, which has extra equipment and better air circulation, to cohort residents who've tested positive for COVID-19.

"We have prepared for this," he said.

"We're not at the point where we can say we safely contained it," said Gagne. A virtual townhall meeting was held with 50 families of residents on Monday who haven't been allowed to visit their loved ones since the outbreak began. "There's a lot of anxiety and fear," he said. "We're working to reassure them we're doing everything right."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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